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Crime & Courts

Psychologist: Tampa terrorism suspect competent for trial

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Published:   |   Updated: March 4, 2013 at 04:36 PM

TAMPA A court-appointed psychologist has concluded terrorism suspect Sami Osmakac is competent to stand trial, a judge said Thursday.

Sami Osmakac, a naturalized citizen from Kosovo, was arrested last year on charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an unregistered machine gun after an undercover sting by the FBI. Authorities said he planned to attack a busy Tampa night spot, then take hostages and demand the release of Muslim prisoners.

Prosecutors asked the court to order an evaluation of Osmakac because he “may be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to communicate with his counsel or assist the defense,” according to U.S. Magistrate Anthony Porcelli’s order.

Porcelli convened a brief hearing Thursday and informed the parties that psychologist Debbie Goldsmith determined Osmakac is competent.

Defense lawyer Ralph Fernandez, who mentioned Osmakac’s “auditory hallucinations,” said he has concerns that his client may not be competent, and he requested a hearing.

Fernandez said he didn’t plan to hire his own expert because he has been unable to find someone willing to perform an assessment in the terrorism case. The lawyer also noted “desperation and paranoia” observed by government agents who were monitoring Osmakac for more than a year before he was arrested.

“This report doesn’t address some critical issues,” Fernandez said of Goldsmith’s conclusions.

Porcelli said he will allow Fernandez to question Goldsmith at a hearing, but he did not set the date, allowing lawyers to confer with each other.

Fernandez withdrew a motion he filed earlier asking for information about an informant. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney asked that the motion be stricken because Fernandez had not first spoken to the prosecution before filing.

Fernandez filed another motion asking for any surveillance recordings obtained of Osmakac under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a law that governs how the government secretly can monitor communications involving American citizens in cases of national security.

In that motion, which alludes to a possible entrapment defense, Fernandez says Osmakac was subject to extensive interviews and had materials and documents seized when he flew to Detroit from Istanbul, Turkey in March 2011. That flight had a stop in Amsterdam, and inspectors there notified U.S. Homeland Security inspectors of their concerns, Fernandez wrote.

Fernandez said he would like to withdraw from the case; he has cited “irreconcilable differences” with Osmakac in court pleadings. Fernandez said another lawyer may enter the case, allowing him to withdraw.

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